Sleeping like a baby is a luxury that many people with full-time adult responsibilities cannot often enjoy. With all the chaos of modern lifestyles, sleep quality often takes a nosedive. Valerian root is a natural substance that helps modulate sleep in addition to anxiety and other aspects of the stress response in the brain.
Primarily, valerian root is well studied for sleep latency (meaning the time it takes to go to sleep) . Studies suggest valerian root not only helps you get to sleep faster, but improves the quality of the sleep as well . This naturally helps people who suffer from insomnia , anxiety , and even situations where people are feeling fatigued .
Valerian root is often consumed in tea form, but extracts are also useful for the purpose of stress relief. Many of the sleep benefiting effects are related to reducing the stress and anxiety, which (in nootropics like Bacopa) are often associated with improved mental performance as well.
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Benefits of Valerian Root
Modern responsibilities include profession, familial, relationships, and many more governed by society. We are expected to look a certain way, eat a certain way, and in many cases men and women (especially in the western world) are tense, stressed, and anxious as a result. This is one of the reason many people turn to substances that can alter their brain chemistry.
Valerian root is one of these substances that has many benefits without accompanying drawbacks. The nootropic is a reliable treatment for generalized anxiety disorder similar to that of prescription drugs, such as diazepam . Valerian reduces many of the symptoms of anxiety, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or restless leg syndrome (RLS) as well .
Of course, the main benefits of valerian are related to sleep. Some people lay in bed for hours waiting for their brain to shut off from the rigors and stresses of the day. Studies show that valerian can reduce sleep latency, meaning that people can fall asleep faster than usual. The meta-analysis shows the that the improvement is minimal , but could still be helpful nonetheless. Similar inconclusive evidence exists for sleep quality, but some sources point to a positive correlation.
By improving sleep, this nootropic can have downstream effects for the rest of the day. In one study on chemotherapy patients, valerian helped reduce feelings of fatigue during the day because the nootropic was assisting in sleep and preventing insomnia at night .
The benefits of valerian root are many, but research is still inconclusive on many of them. It may be worthwhile for some, but not for others.
Valerian Root for Anxiety
Valerian root is a natural herb found in many parts of the world. It has been used to treat symptoms of anxiety for many hundreds of years, but only recently is modern science catching up.
One of the best reasons to use valerian root for anxiety problems is because of the comparison with prescription drugs. A 2002 study in Phytotherapy Research showed that valerian root was as effective as a prescription drug called diazepam .
This drug is usually used in the treatment of “generalized anxiety disorder” (GAD), which many people who suffer from anxiety may have even if undiagnosed by a doctor. There are numerous studies that show valerian root is as useful for treating anxiety as the most powerful drugs.
Numerous studies have found that valerian root treats anxiety symptoms such as OCD and even RLS . Of course, the biggest symptom of anxiety is insomnia and poor sleep. This is where the majority of the studies on valerian root are focused.
Sleep, Valerian Root and Anxiety
What many people do not realize is that anxiety can cause problems with sleep. For one thing, people who feel anxious often struggle with insomnia caused by the anxiety. For another, there are situations where sleep quality is impaired as a result of anxiety.
Although one meta-analysis (a study that looks over all the studies and research) showed that there was a minimal benefit of valerian root for sleep, there was a benefit nonetheless . The 2010 Sleep Medicine study found that there was not enough hard data to suggest it could benefit.
How Does Valerian Root Work?
Like many other natural substances, this root works through a psychoactive ingredient in the essential oil called valerenic acid . This acid interacts with the GABA and glutamate receptors in the brain, which are responsible for providing anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and sleep benefits.
In asking “how does valerian root work?”, this is scientifically answered with the term “mechanism of action”. The mechanism of action for valerian is to interact with glutamate receptors and impact GABA systems in the brain.
Side Effects of Valerian Root
Most scientific evidence on the matter considers valerian root to be a safe nootropic drug. There are no real significant side effects of valerian outside the occurrences of placebo drugs. One of the uncomfortable valerian side effects is diarrhea , but this is not something that occurs often or is life threatening.
Other side effects of valerian include drowsiness and sedation, which can be a positive if that is what you desire. Some people like to feel relaxed or calm without going all the way into sedation or sleepiness. If this sounds like you, use smaller doses of the nootropic for these purposes. The higher the dosage, the more likely you will feel drowsiness and sedation.
Valerian Root Dosage
A standard valerian root dosage is around 450 mg. However, if you are taking the nootropic during the day, you should probably not take more than 2 – 3 doses of 300 mg at a time. This is so that you do not feel overly drowsy, but re-evaluate after testing the drug.
The quality of valerenic acid makes a difference and should be standardized to 0.8 – 1% of the root. Make sure to take valerian root with meals if it is done during the day or just before bed.
How and Where to Buy Valerian Root
You can find valerian root for sale at many local grocery stores and health food stores, but the selection may be less than the online marketplace. One important thing to keep in mind when you buy valerian root is the valerenic acid percentage.
Some products may have a lower than usual percentage, which will be more affordably priced, but is not actually a better financial option. More importantly, it means you will need to take a lot more of the root in order to get the same benefits. Try to only buy products with 0.8 – 1% valerenic acid or more. If you buy valerian online and it has more than 1% (such as a valerian root extract of 5:1), consider this into your dosage as well.
As with many of the natural nootropics that have psychoactive ingredients in the essential oil, it is important to pay attention to these small changes product by product.
Also, keep in mind that valerian root can smell badly. If you buy valerian capsules it may be easier to consume the substance rather than taking the straight powder.
Nootropedia currently recommends Amazon if you want to buy valerian root.
Author's Thoughts on Valerian Root
Given that valerian works on the same GABA receptors as lemon balm, I was intrigued and decided to give it a try. The response was very similar to my lemon balm experience, though perhaps not as strong.
I felt sleepy and drowsy, which was fine because I took it towards the end of the night. I was prepared to go to sleep anyway and sure enough that happened. I have read that some people feel hangover like effects from using valerian too close to bed in high doses, but I didn’t feel anything so I must not have had a high enough dose or it isn’t a side effect that applies to me.
My personal preference is lemon balm, but many people swear by valerian root instead. You might try one and then the other to test, but alternatively you can combine the two. I’ve read some interesting research about the two being combined with synergistic effects (in theory and practice).
Mansal Denton, Nootropedia Contributor
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